Did injuries doom the Heat’s season? After first-round exit, team says ‘it’s not an excuse’

One of the most injury-riddled seasons in Miami Heat history is over.

Unfortunately for the Heat, it ended in fitting fashion with key rotation players like Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Josh Richardson all sidelined by injuries for Wednesday night’s season-ending 118-84 blowout loss to the mostly healthy Boston Celtics at TD Garden. The top-seeded Celtics won the best-of-7 series, 4-1, over the undermanned eighth-seeded Heat.

The ending to this frustrating season filled with unrelenting injury issues was ugly. Wednesday’s 34-point defeat went down as the second-most lopsided playoff loss in Heat history .The Heat’s four losses in the series all came by double-digits — three of them by 20 or more points.

But the Heat refused to use injuries as an excuse for what happened.

“First of all, we’re not going to put this on the fact that we had some injuries,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to begin his postgame news conference in Boston. “Let’s not take anything away from Boston. They’ve been the best team in basketball all season long. And in this series in four of the games, they played as such. That had nothing to do with the injuries, it had nothing to do with guys who were available or not available.”

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Every Heat player who spoke after Wednesday’s loss echoed their coach’s words.

“We’re not going to use [injuries] as an excuse,” Heat forward Haywood Highsmith said. “That’s not an excuse at all. We found a way to win one game in this series without them. So we definitely had enough to try to win four in this series. So that’s not an excuse at all. We have enough guys and we just couldn’t pull it together.”

“It’s definitely tough to have guys out. But we never use that as an excuse,” Heat veteran Kevin Love added. “We wanted to keep fighting as best we could.”

“We had enough,” Heat forward Nikola Jovic said. “If we have five players available, it’s enough. Jimmy was out for a minute now, so we don’t have probably our best player. But we have Tyler [Herro] and Bam [Adebayo], we had enough.”

“We’re not going to give any excuses about injuries,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said. “They were the better team this series.”

The Heat’s injury problem wasn’t isolated only to the first round of the playoffs, though. It was a season-long trend that doomed the Heat.

“I think that’s just how our season went the whole year from top to bottom,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “But it’s not an excuse.”

But it is an explanation for what happened to the Heat.

The Heat was among the most injured teams in the NBA this season. Those injuries led to the Heat setting a new franchise record with 35 different starting lineups used this regular season, surpassing the previous team record of 31 different starting lineups in the 2014-15 regular season.

The Heat’s leading trio of Adebayo, Butler and Herro were limited to just 27 games together this regular season, with the team posting a 14-13 record in those games. This trio played in no playoff games together this year, with Butler missing the entire first round because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.

“It’s tough,” Martin said. “But that’s been the narrative for us the last couple of years. That’s for everybody in the playoffs, throughout the regular season or whatever it is, you always play with guys down. Injuries and setbacks are bound to happen. It’s about how you figure out a way to respond to those. Typically that’s what we do here. So just one of those times and a series that we couldn’t get things going.”

While the season resulted in an early playoff exit after making three East finals appearances and two NBA Finals appearances in the past four years, Adebayo said the team “gained a lot of mental toughness” during this turbulent season that included a 46-36 regular-season record and a second straight play-in tournament berth.

“Going through ups and downs, guys being out, learning how to win with [all the] different starting lineups and going through that, I feel like it only helped me as a captain to understand the ship is going to get rocky sometimes,” Adebayo said. “So for us, I feel like it just taught us about mental toughness this year.”

For Spoelstra, the season was full of mixed emotions.

“It’s disappointing the way it ended,” Spoelstra said. “There were disappointing moments of the season. There were moments where I really thought that we grew from a lot of the adversity. We’ll have plenty of time to go through the autopsy on the regular season. It was super competitive in both conferences. Two or three wins could make monumental differences.”

Two or three extra regular-season wins would have kept the Heat from playing the dominant Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. That, alone, could have helped Miami.

“I think to play Boston this year, I think we would have needed two rounds to get better from the competition to somehow survive and advance the first round, survive and advance the second round,” Spoelstra said. “By the time you get to the Eastern Conference finals, you’re a totally different team from those experiences. We would have needed those experiences together to really earn some tough things, I think, to face this team where they are now. But we’ll never know.”